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Alastair Campbell: Leveson and me

Lord Justice Leveson delivers his findings into the Leveson Report - Credit: Getty Images

In these exclusive extracts from his diaries, ALASTAIR CAMPBELL takes us back to the autumn of 2011: David Cameron leads a coalition government with Nick Clegg as his deputy; Boris Johnson is the celebrity mayor of London; Barack Obama is in the White House; and Britain is in the EU. While the London Olympics are on the horizon, politics is dominated by the looming Leveson inquiry into press standards…

Friday, October 7, 2011

Kept tabs on the first Leveson seminar ahead of his inquiry. Richard Peppiatt [former Daily Star journalist] was good, and hit back at some of the self-serving rubbish from the editors and Trevor Kavanagh [associate editor at the Sun]. Met David Ginola [ex-footballer] for lunch. He was on terrific form. He was dressed like a man half his age but got away with it.

Tuesday, October 11

TB [Tony Blair] called with some more thoughts on the Leveson paper. Some good, some less so. He was keen I take out the attack on Rebekah [Brooks, CEO of News International (NI) and former editor of the Sun and News of the World]. Finally sent it off late pm, with a covering note saying I would be happy to give oral evidence.

Thursday, October 13

Journalists in Macedonia have been protesting against a government crackdown on the media.

Did a quick blog whacking [Paul] Dacre [editor of the Daily Mail] following his rant at Leveson seminar. Good place to do it from – him jerking off about media freedom. FFS.

Wednesday, November 16

Chatted with the counsel to the Leveson inquiry, Robert Jay. He said he liked my statement and he would take me through it, then take in questions others wanted to ask. I said I was worried they would try to resurrect Iraq. He said he wouldn’t let that happen. Said he was determined to be neutral but he was basically a Hampstead liberal of the kind Dacre hated. He said he didn’t let the Mail darken his home. Said he had been reading a lot about Murdoch. He felt I would probably have to give evidence twice – on media practices, and later on what he called the unhealthy relationship with the Murdochs.

Tuesday, November 22

Had the flu jab without fainting. Then to the Hacked Off party for hacking victims. Steve Coogan [actor and phone hacking victim], who had been at Leveson today, very warm and funny. Also said we shared an obsession – Dacre. Max Mosley [entrepreneur, sponsor of Hacked Off] on form and he was the one who seemed to be a bit more strategic. The rest rather caught up in it all. Chris Bryant, Tom Watson, Denis MacShane and Chris Huhne the only MPs. Chatted around. Then met the lawyer for some of them, David Sherborne, who confirmed my fears the inquiry was unlikely to be forensic. It was groping around. He was trying to get at Dacre but was unlikely to be able to. He seemed to think Leveson was not really going to rock boats.

Comedian Steve Coogan arrives to give evidence at The Leveson Inquiry at The Royal Courts of Justice. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images – Credit: Getty Images

Sunday, November 27

I was mugging up on Leveson on the train home when Matthew Doyle [TB’s press officer] texted me to say that Guido Fawkes [political blogger] had published my submission to the inquiry. Bloody hell. I tried to call Robert Jay but didn’t get through so got David Sherborne instead. He said Leveson would go ape. He said he was really getting fed up with the way the media was behaving and last week’s evidence had been bad for them. Fawkes had led on a misleading headline that I was saying the Mirror under [previous editor] Piers Morgan hacked Cherie. I was not. Jay called back and said they would have to consider what action to take, perhaps summon Paul Staines [Fawkes’s real name]. I said I suspected he would love that.

Then out of the blue the phone goes and when I answer a voice says “My name is Brian Leveson”. I was a little taken aback but he went straight into his stride and said “I want to apologise”. I said it is not your fault. He said he was absolutely furious. He was minded to publish my evidence early. I said I would support that. I got the pretty clear sense that he was shocked by what he had heard and seen so far.

He said: “Do they not realise it is evidence when I see them jumping all over J. K. Rowling’s car as she leaves?” Or when they twist the reporting of the day’s events. He was remarkably open, said he didn’t know what he would end up doing policy-wise, and that he had not really wanted the job “but the Lord Chief Justice has a way of getting you to do things you didn’t want to”.

He also asked me if I thought the whole thing was a waste of time. I said I thought not provided he came up with good conclusions, that MPs then had the balls to take them through. Leveson seemed fairly stressed to me, and felt the weight of it all.

Tuesday, November 29

Alastair Campbell at The Leveson Inquiry. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images – Credit: Getty Images

I watched Leveson all day on and off, in between doing my own statement and getting in the zone. Richard Peppiatt. Nick Davies [Guardian journalist who initially uncovered phone hacking]. Paul McMullan [former tabloid journalist]. Three very different brands of journalism. McMullan was truly compelling. As it went on, you thought this can’t get any worse, but it did, again and again. For example his being “proud” at causing riots on the back of a paedophile campaign, and paediatricians being mistakenly attacked. Car chasing being “fun” pre-Diana. On and on. But at the end he seemed to say the Dowlers [the family of murdered child, Amanda/Milly] should be lucky we had brave fearless hacks who do whatever it takes to get a story. Peppiatt was good on the ‘make it up’ culture. Davies thoughtful and measured and very good on the failure of self-regulation (and his lack of fear of it).

Wednesday, November 30

Campbell gives evidence to the inquiry, saying elements of the media had become “frankly putrid”. He said the freedom of the press being defended most loudly had become a part of the press that is “barely worth defending”.

Leveson said at the outset that he found my submission “a formidable piece of work” which put me at ease. I sensed he was sympatico. Jay basically took me through my statement page by page and allowed me to get out most of my points. There were one or two objections from the Mail and the NI lawyers but I felt I held my own fine.

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Hear more from Alastair Campbell’s diary on the latest episode of The New European podcast. 

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